‘I would NOT like to fall down there,’ the backpacker remarked to his mates with that peculiarly British mixture of overconfident understatement and blinding obvious as he stared down into the depths of the crater.
They nodded wisely, unsure whether or not they’d heard something profound, but deciding to play it safe.
Banal though his utterance was, however, he was right. 58 metres (193 feet) WAS a long way down to the green water-weed infested pool at the bottom of the crater. And I didn’t want to fall down there either.
Acrophobics* like me clung to the heavy duty railing to peer over the edge. Mt Hypipamee’s famous crater was giving me the heebie-jeebies. I wondered how long it would take a falling object – say, a human sacrifice – to hit the green depths far below the crater rim.
I didn’t have to wonder for too long.
The backpacker’s girlfriend picked up a stick and casually twirled it like a baton as she glanced at me sideways. Come to think of it, they were ALL glancing at me sideways as they hogged the railing, showing none of the usual tourist hot-spot etiquette whereby each gets an equal turn at the best photo vantage point.
It was pretty obvious I was the only one not of their kind with my tan, thongs and 20+ year head start. What were they looking at? My hair-dye job wasn’t THAT bad, was it?
After shooting around them without using my elbows for their god-given purpose as they continued to take up most of the viewing space at the railing, I’d taken as many photos as I could. Their glances were really starting to creep me out.
What were they waiting for? A human sacrifice??
Approximately 5.918 seconds later the stick hit the water, trailing greenly through the native waterweed on its surface.
Judging by the number of similar trails in the water, I guessed she wasn’t alone in ‘testing’ the depth of the water.
What we couldn’t see, however, was the depth of the pool beneath the protective waterweed layer. Estimated at around 82 metres (273 feet) deep, the pool lay still and silent, or would have but for the stick-and-stone-throwing tourists.
Managers of the stunning Millaa Millaa caravan park where we’d based ourselves in July 2011 on the Tablelands above Cairns in Far North Queensland had given us a list of local attractions. One of several was Mt Hypipamee National Park on the southern Evelyn Tableland and within the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.
Although due to a little flirtation with the facts its technically incorrect colloquial name – ‘The Crater’ – is pure Aussie overstatement. More accurately known as a diatreme or volcanic pipe, it’s thought to have been formed by gas from an underground explosion that expanded to form this deep, cylindrical hole.**
The fact sheet suggested the we look out for platypi*** in the pool and I’d assumed them to be the cause of the waterweed trails. But now I knew the REAL explanation, I wondered if it were possible for platypi – or indeed any creature that couldn’t escape the pool’s closed ecosystem – to survive.
Where was a Platypus Whisperer when you needed one?
On a previous trip to the area, we’d discovered Pilchard’s remarkable talent for spotting platypi, as like the Pied Piper of Yungaburra, he’d seen them at every turn along a river walk. After a while, I and the delighted Swiss family trailing in his wake gave up looking for them ourselves, and just waited for him to point them out.
But Pilchard, the only Platypus Whisperer I know, was busy at the forest edge (aka ‘carpark’) with a couple of other twitchers**** spotting North Queensland endemic Golden Bowerbird (Prionodura newtoniana) high in the trees above.
Later we would go to a TOP SECRET location through leech-dripping rainforest to see the Bowerbird’s bower – with only one use, the avian equivalent of a teenage boy’s chick-magnet hot-rod (I’ve included a mediocre picture of it to satisfy your prurient curiousity) (oh, and you’re now one of not very many people in the world who’ve seen a Golden Bowerbird’s bower)(albeit virtually).
But a more than passing knowledge of the mating habits of bowerbirds wasn’t going to help me with the platypi question. And neither were the backpackers who, having confirmed the depth of the diatreme wasn’t an illusion with their scientific stick, left in a gaggle, speaking loudly of their impending pub-crawl.
And now, gazing into the green waterweed down the green, green vegetation clinging to the granite wall 70 metres (233 feet) away on the other side was making my eyes go funny. If there WERE platypi, they hadn’t made an appearance yet.
I peered more closely into the depths. Was there a movement?
Forget the platypi. Could there be a Ness-like monster lurking in the depths, trapped by time and a prehistoric explosion?
I wondered whether the Mt Hypipamee Crater had ever claimed a victim. A little introspection goes a long way in a place like this Or maybe I just needed to get back to normality.
That is, if a group of twitchers intent on hunting down a (feathered) bird’s love nest was normal. But it says a lot for the Mt Hypipamee Heebie-Jeebies that as I emerged from the rainforest into the relative sanity of the car park, it was!!
* Acrophobia = fear of heights
** According to the Tablelands Parks and Forests brochure produced by Queensland Parks & Wildlife Service
*** Platypi = more than one platypus
**** twitcher = birdwatcher